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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Food for Thought
Bubble teas a fun food to play with

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

As a child, I loved it when my grandmother made tapioca pudding, especially when she used the oversize "pearls," which I liked to roll around in my mouth. There's something about biting into a pea-sized bit of tapioca; it's not solid, it's not liquid, it doesn't taste like anything. It's just ... weird.

Those childhood days came right back when a colleague first told me about "bubble tea" a couple of years ago — "this weird Asian drink with stuff in it." Like everyone else, I nearly choked the first time I pulled a "bubble" of tapioca up through the oversized straw. I wasn't a great fan of the rather chemically and odd fruit flavors of the early drinks, but I got why this idea took off so quickly. It's a food just meant to be played with!

So I wasn't surprised when one of the few truly new ideas at last fall's Food and New Products Show in Honolulu was a line of bubble tea mixes to make at home. But when I read the instructions for Neptune Ice Bubble Tea, I put the product in my "gotta try this someday when I have an hour" file.

First you have to cook the tapioca. Then you have to make a simple syrup (sugar dissolved in hot water). Then you process the syrup with milk, ice and the drink mix in a blender. And finally, you add tapioca as desired. (Or if you don't have a blender, you can just make a liquid form of the drink by shaking everything up in a tightly lidded container.) It's just so much easier to go down to the bubble drink stand a block from my house.

But the idea has really taken off with other, more patient home cooks. The Neptune Ice kits, which sell for $5.99 (6 cups) and $9.99-$12.99 for a larger totebag kit (8 cups) in seven interesting fruit flavors, are selling briskly.

Evan Leong of Bubble Tea Supply said the idea for a home version came when bubble tea addicts started jonesing for the drinks at midnight. It's also the hope of the Honolulu-based company — which has the drinks formulated to their taste specifications in Asia, then assembles the kits here — that the home kit will help take the drink national, introducing the idea to customers outside the Asian communities where bubble tea has primarily been available.

He explained that bubble tea originated in Taiwan at a tea stand where the owner sold cool fruit drinks to school kids and got the idea of shaking them up so the drinks were full of bubbles. Another tea stand owner, Liu Han-Chieh, started a craze by adding cooked tapioca pearls, to make bubbles that lasted.